Matthew Lombardi

Matthew Lombardi on the comeback trail

In some of the best NHL news we’ve heard in a while, newly acquired Maple Leafs forward Matthew Lombardi is making progress in his recovery from the concussion he suffered at the beginning of last season. At this time last year, many people (including myself) were looking at Lombardi as one of the best offseason acquisitions of the summer. His speed and underrated ability to score looked like a perfect fit for the Nashville Predators and their brand of hockey. What we didn’t know was that he was going to suffer a season-ending concussion on October 13th in Chicago when he, Dave Bolland, and the United Center boards all came together at the same time.

In the ten months since the concussion, Lombardi has seen his new team battle for a playoff spot, win their first series and franchise history, and battle the President’s Trophy winning Canucks in a hard-fought 6-game series—all while he was in the press box. Eventually, the speedy center’s time in Nashville was over as soon it started. Lombardi was traded with Cody Franson for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney in a trade that can only be adequately termed as a salary-dump. The Predators were forced to give up Franson in order to get rid of Lombardi’s $3.5 million cap hit over the next two seasons. With his health in doubt, the Predators couldn’t afford to take the risk of $3.5 million sitting in the press box. It’s a gamble the Maple Leafs could afford to take.

If Lombardi is able to fully recover from his concussion, the trade will look like a steal for Burke and the leafs. Judging by a tweet from Darren Dreger yesterday, there’s reason for optimism:

“I’m told Leafs forward Mathew Lombardi is making progress. May not be ready for start of season, but isn’t far off… assuming no setbacks.”

Lombardi is only one of the major risks the Maple Leafs have taken on this summer. On the second day of free agency, Toronto went out and acquired often-injured free agent Tim Connolly from the Buffalo Sabres. The former 5th overall pick in had 13 goals and 29 assists in only 68 games for the Sabres. The 68 games is important—it’s the second highest total for Connolly since the lockout. Even though he was a durable forward for the New York Islanders early in his career, he only averaged 50 games per season in six seasons with the Sabres.

If Connolly can replicate the 65 points he scored in the 2009-10 season, it’ll go a long way towards helping the Leafs cure their offensive woes. They were 23rd in the league with only 2.60 goals per game; they were 22nd in the league with a relatively ineffective 16.0% power play. The guys over at the Maple Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets seem to think the team will need a little more than just Lombardi and Connolly to compete this season:

“Ho boy! Two 50-point scorers on our top 2 lines? They’d fit right along with our…(checks stats) two 60+ point and two 55+ point players already there….hmmmmmm. Now don’t get me wrong, Connolly is absolutely an improvement over Bozak at the 1C position, but to imply that two 50-point players are what the Leafs need to finally get over the hump, one of which isn’t even skating, well that’s just silly. Especially considering that Joffrey Lupul was on pace for a 52-point 82 game season in a Leafs uniform, it’s going to take more than the addition of a 50-point 1C to get this team into the playoffs”.

There are things that Toronto management can control in the offseason and there are things they can’t. They made the calculated risk to bring in Connolly as a free agent and trade for Matthew Lombardi from the Nashville Predators. If they both can stay healthy, the two veteran acquisitions will be a boost to a team that desperately needs a few centers. Or top 6 forwards. Or both. The news that Lombardi is progressing should be greeted with cheers from all over Leafs Nation. If he can contribute this season, he’ll be a perfect fit for a team that would like to play with speed.

Here’s to hoping his rehab continues without any major setbacks.

Video: Pavelski gives Sharks the lead as they look to clinch berth in Stanley Cup Final

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Perseverance paid off for the San Jose Sharks.

Joe Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, pushing home a loose puck on Brian Elliott after Joe Thornton was unable to convert on the breakaway seconds before.

For Pavelski, that’s his league-leading 13th goal of these playoffs.

The Sharks can clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history with a win tonight.

San Jose increased its lead to two goals, as Joel Ward capitalized early in the second period.

Canucks trade Jared McCann to the Panthers for Erik Gudbranson

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Jared McCann #91 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on during a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on November 30, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers have made a trade — and it’s a big one.

As per Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the two main components are forward Jared McCann, who just completed his rookie season with the Canucks, and 24-year-old defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who has played five seasons with the Florida Panthers.

Here are the details:

McCann is the second draft selection of the Jim Benning-Trevor Linden era, taken 24th overall in 2014. As a 19-year-old rookie armed with a big-league wrist shot, he scored nine goals and 18 points while averaging 12:31 of ice time per game in 69 games.

The Canucks had the option of sending McCann back to junior last season and not burning a year of his entry-level deal, but they chose to keep him in Vancouver for the entire year.

One particular aspect of his development, particularly this off-season, was a need to get physically stronger, which was something that could be exposed at times in the defensive end against bigger forwards.

Gudbranson, selected third overall in 2010 and signed to a one-year, $3.5 million extension earlier this month, certainly gives the Canucks size on the back end at six-foot-five-inches tall, a physical presence and a right shot on the blue line, but he has managed only 13 points as a single-season career best and that was in 2014-15.

The Canucks also gave up two picks in this year’s draft.

 

Vasilevskiy ‘is the big reason we’re in Game 7,’ says Bolts coach Cooper

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It has been an Eastern Conference Final full of twists and turns in the plot.

Exhibit A: The goaltending situation for both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. 

That began right away, in the first period of Game 1 when Ben Bishop was stretchered off the ice with a lower-body injury. Since then, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been The Guy for the Lightning, which will face the Penguins in a Game 7, winner-take-all contest, in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Of the many storylines heading into this contest, one that stands out is it’s expected to be a goaltending duel between the 21-year-old Vasilevskiy and the Matt Murray, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Wednesday.

(Remember when Penguins coach Mike Sullivan went with Marc-Andre Fleury to start over Murray in Game 5, only to switch back to Murray for a must-win Game 6? Another plot twist.)

Bolts head coach Jon Cooper had previously left the door open to the possibility that Bishop could return in this series. On Wednesday, however, he told reporters he’ll meet with his staff but does not anticipate Bishop being in for Game 7.

“I think Andrei is the big reason we’re in Game 7,” said Cooper.

“He’s made big save after big save for us. The one thing that I do like that’s happened to him finally in this series is, you know, he finally started a playoff game and won, whereas his other playoff wins were always in relief, and he’s won in Pittsburgh. So you’ve got to like the kid feels pretty comfortable playing there, and we like that.”

WATCH LIVE: Blues at Sharks – Game 6

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues, Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks, and Joe Thornton #19 argue with a referee during the second period in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The San Jose Sharks can make franchise history on home ice tonight against the St. Louis Blues. Win, and the Sharks clinch their first ever trip to the Stanley Cup Final. Lose, and it’s back to St. Louis for a deciding Game 7 in the Western Conference Final.

You can catch tonight’s Game 6 on NBCSN (9 p.m. ET) or online with the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Tarasenko needs to start ‘playing within the system’: Hitch

On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott

The Blues could sure use a goal or two from Tarasenko

Stanley Cup Final to begin Monday